This is quick, but I wanted to repost a great interview I came across in BOMBlog, wherein a writer set out to interview Sophie Calle and, for various reasons, failed.
Sophie Calle’s controversial project, The Address Book, was recently translated in English as a proper, purchasable book by Siglio Press. The book itself is based on a real-life address book of Pierre D. Calle found the book, and (after xeroxing ever page) returned it to its owner. With the facsimile at her disposal, Calle contacted everyone inside this stranger’s address book and interviewed them about the address book’s owner. When Pierre D. discovered what the artist was up to, he was outraged. “Eventually Pierre D. stumbles onto Calle’s plan and, as you may have guessed, was outraged. He threatened to sue the artist and bizarrely demanded that Libération publish nude photographs of Calle in return. To resolve the turmoil, Calle agreed not to publish her complete findings until Pierre D.’s death, which occurred earlier [in 2012]” (Huffington Post). This mode of inquiry gave Calle a means to understand certain things about this stranger, through the experience his contacts relayed. Like much of Calle’s work, there is an intensely voyeuristic aspect, what is now furthered by her now-totally-public findings. The interview I refer to doesn’t actually ever present Calle’s answers to any questions. Instead the artist remains remote as one of her subjects.
The interviewer is left with unanswered questions that nevertheless offer insight into the project. I have included an excerpt below:
I thought Sophie Calle was blasting Van Morrison in her studio when I called for an interview. A few minutes later she told me to turn my music down. The hold-songs were a comically misread sign that the third party conference-call site was not in fact recording our conversation. We ultimately forfeited to the mechanical obstacles that foiled our attempts to start over. Had I understood the technology, had we had more time, had “Born to Run” not drowned out our brief interaction, I would have interviewed Sophie about The Address Book—her project from 1980 newly translated into English and published by Siglio Press.
The controversial project has attracted a sizable viewer/readership, but for those who aren’t familiar: it is a compilation of text and images that documents Sophie Calle’s encounters with the acquaintances listed in an address book she found on Rue des Martyrs. Before returning the book to its owner, known to us as Pierre D., Sophie photocopied its contents in order to build a portrait of a missing subject by contacting his contacts. Each documented encounter yields a new impression with a new valence; overlay them all and a figure may start to take shape. Toward the end Calle reflects, “The descriptions merge together. The picture gets more defined and exhausts itself at the same time.” Some examples: Paul B. characterizes Pierre as “a child forgotten in an airport;” Jacques O. remarks on his “well-mastered incongruity;” and Marianne B. describes him as “a cloud in trousers.” Other encounters yield nothing besides Calle’s reconsideration and doubt concerning her work. Pierre’s brother, a psychoanalyst, declined the invitation because the project was “too inquisitive.” The accompanying photos—a chair Pierre liked to sit in, his building’s peeling ceiling, the crotch of an informant—are equally inquisitive, and quietly illustrative. (read more)
That said, if you’re like me and still curious, I also found the following youtube video where Calle talks about her approach to editing (among other things)…
I’m all about linking the interviews today, aren’t I? But I just came across another one that’s too good to pass on – three Chicago greats in conversation! Richard Hull interviews Gladys Nilsson and Jim Nutt for the Winter 2011 issue of BOMB, which hit the stands a few days ago on December 15th. The interview (or at least a healthy chunk of it) can also be found online – click here to read it; a small excerpt is below. There is also a 3 minute audio excerpt from the interview posted on BOMB’s website.
Richard Hull: As I was coming up here I was thinking about your collection of works by self-taught artists, contemporary art, and ethnographic objects—especially with the Ray Yoshida show coming up at SAIC. As a teacher at the school he had a lot of influence on people collecting things. When did you start collecting?
Gladys Nilsson: We bought a small painting by a Sunday painter who couldn’t quite get it right at a junk shop in the early ’60s because, I don’t know, it seemed like the thing to do. We didn’t start out acquiring things with the idea that we must form a collection.
Jim Nutt: The False Image people [Christina Ramberg, Phil Hanson, Eleanor Dube, Roger Brown] and other students became aware that Ray was going to flea markets, and they started going as a group. It became almost a weekend ritual, but it also had something to do with his idea of going out and collecting images that you see in your eye. It wasn’t unlike his instructing students to cut out images from wherever and organize/paste them in sketchbooks, based on formal relationships. The idea was to recognize the potential of a form or shape beyond the literal reference.
GN: When all of this flea market and Maxwell Street shopping was going on, we were in California. Even earlier on, before the Hairy Who shows started up, people were ripping out ads from backs of magazines or odd photos from newspapers, or picking up junk found on the street, and surrounding themselves with this curious mix in their studios.
JN: People acquired things just because they liked to have them. It’s the kind of stuff that artists for years have had in their studios. They see something that interests them, quite often it’s a postcard of a well-known painting, but it’s also something from the vernacular or popular, easily acquired in the everyday world.
RH: Does what you collect influence you directly? Say, the African pieces or the works by self-trained artists in your home; do they have an effect on the way you use color or make shapes or images?
GN: That’s been foisted on us and others of our ilk: that we were heavily influenced by our collections. I mean, I would be more prone to go to a museum, find an arm in a painting and use it as a source, than to say, “Oh, my God! Look how Joseph Yoakum draws a tree in a work in our collection. I must use that.”
Somehow I missed this series when it debuted at the end of November, but my trusty feedreader eventually makes sure the good stuff gets my attention. BOMB’s Jackie Saccoccio posed this question to twelve painters whom she admires: “What is the current state of abstraction?” The answers, provided by Dan Walsh and Amy Sillman, Jessica Dickinson and Philip Taafe, Steve DiBenedetto and Eric Wendel, Jason Fox and Eva Lundsager, and Carroll Dunham and Keltie Ferris, are as tonally varied, compelling, cheeky and angst-ridden as is, well, the state of abstraction today, I guess. (Amy Sillman uses the question as the opportunity to formally break up with Abstraction). Read all of the responses here. The last entry in the series, including responses from Marc Handelman and Cheryl Donegan, are coming up in a future installment.
This week, Jana Leo’s Rape New York, subtitled An Open Archive, went on view at Invisible Exports in New York City. The exhibition consists of boxes of photographs, documents, transcripts and other material relating to the artists’ rape seven years ago.
The gallery’s press release describes the project as follows:
The documents assembled here, seven years in the making, accompany the release of (Leo’s) book RAPE NEW YORK. The archive consists of photographs from her emergency visit to the hospital, police reports, crime scene photographs, notes from her therapist, as well as records from the civil suit and other assorted items and documents related to the rape and the legal case that followed, none of which can be reproduced, or even reviewed without the victims’ consent. The documents are kept in organized boxes to be retrieved by the archivist, not displayed on the gallery walls. The archive is not presented to the visitor; instead, each guest must fully identify oneself (photo ID is required), and request materials from the archivist. This way, the visitor takes responsibility for what’s requested, making private again what was made public by Leo—the latest revolution in a cycle of public and private that began with the rape itself.
The outlines of Leo’s project recalls that of a number of 1970′s era feminist works dealing with traumatic exposure–Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece (link is to a video of the performance) and 1968 film Rape come foremost to mind–but the heart of Leo’s piece seems to lie within the viewer’s decision to take responsibility, in a public way, for looking at material that is private in the deepest sense of the word. Does the artist’s complicity in the exposure negate its voyeuristic qualities? Does the decision to study Leo’s rape archives signal compassion, curiosity, or cruelty on the part of individual viewers? Perhaps, a bit of all three.
Lately I’ve been mulling over a bunch of questions that essentially revolve around blogging and personal responsibility. Yesterday I came across mention of Leo’s show in a brief blurb on one of the art news blogs. I initially decided not to reblog the item, because there was only minimal information about the show itself. It felt sensationalistic, somehow, to just shoot the item out there once again without providing any further context. As coincidence would have it, this morning I randomly came across Caitlin Roper’s lengthy and fascinating interview with Jana Leo on Bomb’s blog, which contains a few reproductions of images and documents from the archive. Roper’s piece, I think, provides enough background context to give Leo’s project meaning even to those who can’t see the show in person.
To be honest, I feel somewhat relieved that I don’t live in New York and therefore don’t have to decide whether or not I want to visit Leo’s show and read her archives. I have an easy out, this time. But I did have to make the decision about whether and how I should write about it, particularly in the zippily superficial context of a blog post. So in that sense, I am still a participant in Leo’s project, still accountable for my decision to engage it from a distance in the manner that I have.
Here’s a last, chilling postscript. Eva Rhodes (nee Eva Majlata), the unnamed woman who was the subject of Ono’s aforementioned film Rape, was bludgeoned to death in 2007 by one of her employees, set on fire, and buried not far from an animal sanctuary she had established in Hungary. Sukhdev Sandhu writes movingly about Rhodes’ death, and Ono’s film, here.